Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Lipstick on a Pig" and selling Print

"Lipstick on a pig" are the words that are appropriate in public or professional conversations that communicate the same thing as "bullshit" in personal conversations. In the world of finance, either words can describe bad loans, packaged into securities that then are "valued" at much more than they are worth. It might be said that it's a business model based on bullshit.

In the world of governance - either corporate or public, it points to the problem that is supposed to be solved with "transparency" and "accountability." In everyday life, it is the problem that is supposed to be solved by "not lying." In the world of brand building it is solved by delivering "a consistently good customer experience." In the world of professional selling it is the problem that is solved by a "code of professional behavior."

But actually in all of these worlds, it is as simple and difficult as "don't bullshit."

This may seem to be counterintuitive to those who grew up in the legacy printing business of the 20th century. I spent 30 years as a printing broker in New York City. You can imagine that I have seen the power of bs. When a customer asked, "Can you?" I quickly said "Yes" and then went back to figure out "how." When a customer said "when am I going to get that proof?" I quickly said, "should be this afternoon." Then I would go through some drama to make it happen.

When the customer said "When am I going to get my estimate?" I would often say "they are working on it." While that was true, it was bs because it didn't answer the question. The question was "when?" The only no-bs answer had to be either in the form of "You will get it on X day, at Y time" or "Let me find out, and I'll call you back with the answer."

Luckily my firm was pretty good at figuring out "how", and getting people estimates and proofs and quotes. In retrospect that was the real value we created that allowed us to not compete on price.

But, that was then, and this is now. If I were still in the game and a customer emailed me to ask "Can you?" I would now email back within 15 minutes with either "Yes" or "It depends on x,y,z." or "I think so. Let me get back to you as soon as I figure it out." "Can you" is not an essay question. It's multiple choice. There are three choices. Any other answer is some form of bs.

Post internet we live in an information rich world. Any hint of bs will be discovered in real time. Email stores bs. It's not like a face to face conversation that is open to interpretation. Once you have written it, it can come back to keep you on the straight and narrow.

The real danger is that these days customers have much more finely tuned bs detectors. As soon as a potential customer gets even a tiny hint of "spinning," it can destroy your credibility. Once you've lost your credibility, you are relegated to competing only on price.

If you are the lowest cost provider in your market, it's a little less dangerous. The problem is that there is always someone who will have a lower price. Another problem is that your book of business can be primarily bargain hunters. A still other problem is that even the lowest price doesn't overcome the hassle factor. If a competitor prices the same as you, and makes it more convenient and pleasant to buy, then you're back in the soup.

If you are trying to compete on service rather than price, it's a much more serious problem. At that level, you are really selling "failure insurance." Selling insurance, like buying and selling financial instruments, is about trust. If you've damaged that trust, your customer becomes more and more sensitive to price. In finance, the consequences can be much worse. In printing, chances are they will find the right mix for them from some else.

So if you are selling print for a living, what should you do?

The short story is keep the bs to an absolute minimum.
The longer story depends on who you are, who your customers are, who the production people in your firm are, what kind of hardware you have, how much money you want to earn and how you want to earn it. Because each situation is by definition completely different, the long story can't be done in a blog post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "End as We Know It" is not the same as the End

Publishers, maybe even more than printers, have broken business models. For the first couple of years, they decided that "people don't read." Tell that to Amazon or Lulu or Lightning Source. It's eerily similar to the stuff you hear from the "Print is Dead" crowd when they declare "It's the End of Print as We Know It!"

What some publishers are really saying is "People don't want to pay the price we've always charged for the stuff we've always produced." It's similar to what some printers are really saying, "People don't want to pay the price we've always charged for the stuff we've always produced." Actually, it's the same for every legacy business in the internet age. Consider Dell Computer or General Motors "People don't want to pay the price we've always charged for the stuff we've always produced."

Sound familiar?

Printers, just like Dell Computer and General Motors have three choices.
1. Get used to being a stagnating company in a shrinking market.
If you borrowed too much cheap money and cooked the books, go out of business as on Wall Street this September.
2. Find the people who want to pay the price for the stuff you've always produced.
Easiest for the short term solution.
3. Tinker with the stuff you make until you figure out how to make stuff people want while at the same time figuring out how to earn enough money to make a sustainable profit.
Most reliable for a longer term solution.

That's pretty much it. And it's pretty much what people mean when they talk about "creating value," "inventing new business models","monetizing value" and "innovation drives profits."

A good friend forwarded this link to a story at New York Magazine. It shows a business model innovation for publishing that might work. The title is Have We Reached the End of Book Publishing as We Know it? The writer is Boris Kochka. The date of publication is September 14.

Have We Reached the End of Book Publishing As We Know It? -- New York Magazine:
"Miller recently left Hyperion, which he founded seventeen years ago, to start his own imprint at the urging of HarperCollins’s then-CEO, Jane Friedman. She was replaced in June, but HarperStudio lives on. For all its ambitions, it’s a modest outfit: Miller and three women, two of them in their twenties, hope to publish two books a month starting next May, having convinced 25 authors to forgo big advances in return for half of their books’ eventual profit."
Idea 1:"...forgo big advances in return for half of their books' eventual profit"
Idea 2: "Miller and three women, two of them in their twenties. . "
Still books, still publishing, everything else is pretty much the same.

In this case, the "innovations that drive profit" were innovations in the business model. Truth be told it is now possible because the "makeready" costs to get the first books into market is better, faster, cheaper. Thank you, Adobe,et al, and digital printing. Plus, the logistics of getting it distributed is also better, faster, cheaper. Thank you, Amazon, the internet, et al.

It's taking a little while to get it right because business that prospered last century have been a little too busy blaming the customer. Also there are lots of people that have to either get retrained, more trained or fired.

It's a longer, but similar, story for print salespeople and the firms they work for, but that's for another post. Or you can just fill in the blanks yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What was, is.

Printing salespeople usually live in the moment. Or at least until the next sales goal has to be reported. Then, they are told they have to build long term relationships with their customers. Then they are asked every couple of days "how's it going?" which usually means "Did you bring in any new jobs/money/customers today?"

To top it all off, everyone knows printing is bought, not sold. A salesperson does not control when the print purchase event is going to happen. Unlike a supermarket, there are no impulse buys.

No wonder that salespeople are so stressed in a shrinking market. The job definition is a prescription for failure. There are alternative job descriptions. But that's for another post.

One thing that helps is to get a prospective on what was, so that a salesperson can define what is. The real competitive sales advantage for non commodity sales is figuring out what a customer needs, not just want they want, before the competition does.

Below is something I found at the DG3 website. From everything I can tell, DG3 seems to have figured out how to thrive in this 21st century world. While it may not seem to have anything to do with selling , it might give a sense of what I'm trying to get at.

The long tail - one of the marketing buzzes du jour - is really the forward long tail. But there is also the backward long tail.

First who DG3 says they are:
"We have been a leading provider in the printing and communications market for over thirty years. Today, our clients include some of the world's largest companies, as well as discerning small and medium sized businesses active in different sectors from financial services to pharmaceuticals.
Then the long tail that got them to where they are today. It's little long. But that's the thing about the backward long tail.

(Note it seems that they started as a printing broker which is just an independent salesperson, who knows how to get things done.)
Roda Print was founded and developed to produce fast turnaround printing services for the investment banking community in London

Cunningham Graphics International Inc. was founded in the USA as a print brokerage, specializing in printing for the financial services industry

Workable was founded in Hong Kong. The company quickly established itself as the printer of choice for Hong Kong’s finance industry and within ten years, the workforce leapt from 4 to 120 employees. CGI moved into manufacturing to meet the need of the industry for quality overnight printing in the New York area

Cunningham Graphics International Inc. formed a strategic alliance with Roda in London and Workable in Hong Kong in order to form World Research Link™. WRL™ specializes in multi-time-zone printing and the servicing of global clients

Cunningham Graphics International Inc. acquired Roda Print in London and Workable in Hong Kong and is floated on NASDAQ

Cunningham Graphics International Inc. makes two further acquisitions in the UK: Apollo UK Limited, a research printer and Goldhawk Print Services Limited, a digital reprographics specialist

Cunningham Graphics International Inc. is acquired by Automatic Data Processing Inc. (NYSE: ADP)

CGI Europe Limited and CGI Asia Limited replace Roda and Workable as the company name in London and Hong Kong respectively

CGI Pacific Limited and CGI Japan Limited are opened to service the financial and research market in Sydney and Tokyo

CGI Asia Limited acquires IFP, a local research printer in Hong Kong

Peter Furlonge acquires CGI Europe Limited, CGI Asia Limited, CGI Japan Limited and CGI Pacific Limited from ADP Inc. in a Management Buyout to form The CGI Group

CGI Group acquires 3D Digital Limited, the largest London based digital printer to broaden the range of services to offer to clients

CGI Group establishes CGI Squared, a technology-focused creative communications business to offer clients a seamless one-stop communications solution

CGI Group acquires ADP Graphic Communications, Inc. to form CGI North America, Inc., extending the Group's global footprint and expanding the range of services available in North America

CGI changes its name to DG3- Diversified Global Graphics Group and welcomes back Dr. Michael Cunningham as Group Chief Executive Officer

DG3 receives a major investment from Arsenal Capital Partners, appoints Larry Bloch as Chairman and executes the acquisition of PharmAid Industries, a leading supplier of communication services to some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms. The link to DG3 website:
Now, if I were trying to sell something to DG3, which I'm not, this is the kind of information that might help me figure out the appropriate offering. And if I were designing some transpromo something, this is the kind of information that might help to find just that right offer to be made to the right person at the right time.

Sales vs Production: Sales Strikes Back!

On Friday I started a conversation on The title of the thread is Sales vs Production: Sales Strikes Back! Print Planet is a really neat print discussion board since it's mostly real people doing real work. It seems to me that it has lots of prepress and production people sharing, asking, answering and of course screeding.

Here are the words that got under my skin:
"Our sales schleps are so lazy that they don't even call the client to get printing specs anymore... just send the files to prepress and have them preflight it and tell us what's on the disk. Refresh my memory, but what the hell does a sales rep actually do? They don't pick up files anymore, they don't deliver proofs now that their atrophied brains have figured out what a PDF can do, they don't do press checks unless they're right after lunch which is usually when they drag their lazy carcasses into work, and they don't deliver the printing when it's done! Call me crazy, but I think I could do that too!"
So I said:
So . . . dear friends in production:
The sales process and the sales and CSR's who manage that process are the only people who bring in money. Everyone else is spending money. Sorry, but that "lazy sales schlep" is paying everyone's salary.
then blah, blah, blah, then I said
Give me a break !
Then he said and I said and .... If you have a little time, I think it's worth the click

Anyway, after a couple of back and forths, someone else got to an idea that makes some real sense moving sales into the 21st century.
I believe that digital pre-press skills combined with a CSR's communication skills is the perfect meld. Paramount to this however is the ability to actually complete the job. If a CSR/Digital worker has great communication and organizational skills but can not do the desktop work necessary to properly and efficiently produce a final piece, there is no product and no sale.

On the other hand if a desktop operator is moved into the position of a CSR/Digital worker and has adequate communication skills and can create consistently high quality product, you have a sale. In short, I believe that the digital age of printing has consolidated, and continues to consolidate, skills into the hands of less and less people.

Ten years ago the thought of a midsize shop running with 2 Pre-press employees per shift was ridiculous, computers changed that. The next stage of automation is fast approaching and those workers with computer skills and a willingness to engage and guide customers may be in the best position to benefit.